Still reeling from Las Vegas shooting, country music gathers in Nashville to heal
NASHVILLE — Roughly 120 people from Nashville’s country music community were on the ground at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas on Oct. 1 when a gunman opened fire on the crowd during Jason Aldean's headlining set, according to an industry estimate.
As they returned home, the music industry rallied around the artists, crew members and executives who survived the largest mass shooting in modern United States history, which left 58 dead and more than 600 wounded. The Nashville contingent escaped the gunfire physically unscathed, which Tatum Hauck Allsep, executive director of the Music Health Alliance, calls a miracle.
But the emotional toll on Nashville’s survivors has been immense. In the ensuing weeks, there has been a massive need for trauma therapy, Allsep said. As the shooting unfolded, husbands texted wives what they believed were their parting words of love. Crew members saw carnage typically only witnessed by soldiers on the battlefield.
The response from Music Row has been substantial. Music and health care non-profit groups have combined their resources. Counseling centers provided trauma therapists. For those who could not pay or whose insurance doesn’t include therapy, money was raised to cover the bills.
Now, as country music prepares for its biggest night — this week’s CMA Awards — the shooting also has presented a more existential challenge — one with which Music Row is still grappling. Country music has mastered the art of selling fans a good time. But the Las Vegas massacre has left a dark cloud over the parking lot party atmosphere.
It's a good bet that the nationally televised show, hosted by country superstars Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley, will include a tribute to those killed and injured in Las Vegas.
CMA Chief Executive Sarah Trahern said the show, while upbeat, will contain "several poignant and memorable moments for us to reflect on the past year.”
“Even though a month has passed, the shock of the tragedy in Vegas is still top of mind in our community," said Trahern. "What many of our colleagues and fans experienced will long be remembered together as we try to understand and heal.”
Shockwaves from the shooting continue to reverberate across the industry.
Singer Justin Moore, for instance, hired a security guard for the first time in his career.
"It definitely feels different," he said. "I told (my wife) for the last couple of years that it concerned me that we were sitting ducks on stage. If somebody were to have ill intentions, it wouldn't be that difficult. It sickens me that it came true, and not only did that come true, but it came true for the audience."
The country genre is unique in that with its own trade associations and its own award shows, it has become its own community. When members of that community are endangered, the family instinctively pulls tighter, said artist manager Martha Earls with EFG Management.
"There was no one in the country community who was not directly or indirectly impacted by the shooting in Vegas," she said. "I also believe that strong bond of community is what will help us collectively heal from this tragedy and move forward even stronger.”
Therapists provided to help with emotional trauma
In the days that followed the shooting, Nashville non-profit groups rallied together. MusiCares, Musicians On Call, the Music Health Alliance and Porter’s Call were among the groups that offered therapy or support for those affected.
BMI hosted a gathering just a few days after the shooting that included a panel of specialists for those impacted. BMI executive Jody Williams said the goal was to immediately provide resources, especially therapy to whoever needed it.
“They didn’t want to wait two weeks to do it. They wanted to go ahead and show the community their support,” Williams said.
Allsep, leader of the Music Health Alliance, said the shooting impacted more than just those who were in attendance. Spouses have had an especially difficult time as their partners have returned to the road as artists continued their tours, Allsep said.
High Valley's Curtis Rempel said his wife, Miranda, always worried when he left home to play shows, but now her fears have been amplified. High Valley played Route 91 Harvest before the shooting.
"It will take a long time for her," he said. "Now, she thinks about it all the time."
Country music family grows even tighter
Ben Vaughn, president at Warner/Chappell Nashville, said the shooting has made an already closely knit country music community even closer.
“We are a family,” Vaughn said of Nashville’s music industry. “We are not a bunch of companies that compete with each other at no cost. We definitely compete, but at the end of the day we’re family. At the end of the day, everybody pulls together and it’s not even a question. They just do.”
And as the days have passed, the country music industry has returned to doing what it does best: making music.
"If you're going to be scared to go to a show because people get shot at shows, then you should be scared to go to church because people get shot in churches and you should definitely be scared to go to airports because people get shot in airports," said Brad Rempel, the other half of High Valley.
Vaughn said he is already hearing music from Warner/Chappell writers inspired by the Las Vegas tragedy. It reminded him of the time after 9/11 when he was working with Alan Jackson and first heard his song Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?
Veronica Marmolejo works in the Nashville music industry handling corporate sponsorships and VIP packages for companies that underwrite tours. She was right outside the Route 91 festival gate when the shooting started.
Marmolejo makes her living working at concerts and she wondered how difficult it would be to return to “work,” which are music venues across the country. Her first concert since the tragedy wasn’t for work, but to see her favorite band needtobreathe perform in Nashville.
Marmolejo had debated whether to go. But music, she said, has served as a spiritual healer. She said she believes the country music community can help the nation process the Las Vegas shooting by simply continuing to put on concerts and create music, as it plans to do at Wednesday's award show.
“I honestly believe that music heals,” she said. “Music is love.”